Cowboy Caviar is a chunky, flavor-packed recipe perfect as a scoopable appetizer or side salad. Tangy, spicy and full of wholesome ingredients you’ll love.
My first introduction to Cowboy Caviar was at a Labor Day picnic several years ago. A friend brought is as a chunky dip and I was totally intrigued!
Once she told me the name I fell in love with it. The nod to Texas flavors hooked me immediately.
I love the flexibility of Cowboy Caviar. The ingredients can be switched up. And the heat level be tailored to one’s preferences.
What is Cowboy Caviar?
Is it a scoopable dip or a side dish?
It’s a chunky recipe of beans, corn, onion, chile peppers and more in a tangy-zesty dressing. Easy to make and perfect for any casual meal.
Great either as a side salad OR as an appetizer dip. Also sometimes called ‘Texas Caviar’.
Cowboy Caviar is a naturally gluten-free recipe.
The Invention of Cowboy Caviar
The original recipe is believed to have been developed in the early 1900’s by Helen Corbitt. She was a notable chef and cookbook author.
Her journey landed her in Texas in 1931. There she was said to have been ‘courted’ by Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus). She became the store’s Director of Food Services.
It was apparently during time at Neiman Marcus when she developed the original recipe. It did not have the ‘Cowboy Caviar’ name and featured black eyed peas.
Helen Corbitt didn’t like black eyed peas and pickled them in a marinade for this dish.
Since then the recipe has spread and has been modified in many ways.
All versions of the recipe feature a central bean (usually still black eyed peas). Other chunky vegetables to create a delicious Southwestern flavored dish.
Cowboy Caviar Ingredients
The beauty of this dish, besides it’s great spicy flavor, is the flexibility of the ingredients.
My version was originally intended for using up garden produce and can be adapted for your favorite ingredients.
There is NO caviar in Cowboy Caviar!
- Black Beans
- Sweet Corn (fresh, canned or frozen/thawed)
- Yellow Pear Tomatoes (or grape tomatoes)
- Red Onion
- Chile Peppers
The dressing is a tangy, spicy vinaigrette that gives life to the chunky cowboy caviar ingredients.
The amount of dressing is light to keep focus on the cowboy caviar ingredients.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Olive Oil
- fresh Lime Juice
- Chili Powder or Cayenne Pepper if wanting a spicy batch
- Salt and Pepper
Pick Your Heat
This recipe gives the home chef the choice of three heat levels.
Everyone is different regarding how spicy they like their food. This way the best fit can happen.
A compliment of pickled peppers are added to keeping with the original recipe for Cowboy Caviar.
How to Make Cowboy Caviar – Step by Step
This is an easy recipe and can be whipped up in minutes.
Allowing it to sit after adding the dressing blends the flavors before serving.
- Combine the non-dressing ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
- Add the dressing ingredients to a small bowl and whisk to fully combine and dissolve the sugar.
- Pour the dressing on the cowboy caviar and mix well.
May be served immediately or chilled for an hour to allow the ingredients to blend together.
How to Serve Cowboy Caviar
It’s a relaxed side dish perfect with grilled meats. Or serve as an appetizer with tortilla chips.
How to Change Up Cowboy Caviar
This is a very flexible recipe. Here are some ways to change it up:
Use Homemade Beans. Cook dried beans in your favorite way to use in this recipe.
Use Half Black Beans and Half Black Eyed Peas. Create a mix of the original recipe and modern day and mix the beans.
Add some Chopped Avocado. For a creamy addition avocado tames the heat and adds wonderful texture and color.
Substitute Sriracha for the Chili Powder. Still keeps it spicy but with a different flavor.
Grill the Corn. Grilled corn caramelizes the sugars for a smoky, sweet flavor. Grill the ears of corn and remove the kernels from the cob.
Use prepared Italian Salad Dressing. This shortcut will save time and add a different flavor with Italian Dressing. The recipe uses approximately ½ cup of dressing. Start with a ¼ cup, stir in, taste and add more if needed/preferred.
Can Cowboy Caviar be Made Ahead of Time?
Yes, it can!
Cowboy Caviar has the best texture the day it’s made. However the flavor blend and improve over time.
Making it the day before serving still retains the great texture and allows the flavors to build too.
How to Store Cowboy Caviar
Place in a sealed container and store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
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This spicy, chunky salad is full of great flavors, textures and colors. It's a perfect side dish or appetizer. Three levels of ‘heat’ are included to pick from to make the recipe perfect for your spiciness preference.
- 1 29-ounce can black beans drained and rinsed
- 2 cups fresh corn kernels canned (drained) or frozen/thawed corn may be substituted
- 1 1/2 cups ripe tomatoes chopped
- 1/2 cup yellow pear tomatoes (about 7-8), chopped
- 1/2 medium red onion diced
- 2 stalks celery diced
- 1/4 cup cilantro chopped
Pick ONE of the Following (Mild, Medium or Hot)
- MILD: 1 red Anaheim chile (seeded and diced) plus 2 teaspoons mild pickled peppers (diced)
- MEDIUM: 1 jalapeno chile (seeded and diced) plus 2 teaspoons pickled pepperocinis (diced)
- HOT: 2 serrano chiles (seeded and diced) plus 2 teaspoons pickled jalapenos
- 2 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili pepper or cayenne pepper (spicier)
- Juice of ½ a medium lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mix all ingredients in a large bowl
Originally Published: September 9, 2011